The Tribune can never be silent
posted 29-Apr-2018  ·  
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“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes."

This damning phrase was written by human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson in discussing the American justice system.

He might as well have been referring to the Philippines when he posted this on facebook two years ago.

In 2012, De La Salle College of Law Dean Jose Manuel Icasiano Diokno, an outsider-nominee for Chief Justice, vowed to deliver justice especially to the masses by giving them more access to legal counsels and to trial courts.

“The sad truth is many of our courts are too expensive for many of our people to litigate cases,” he said then. “Right now, law and justice are two separate concepts for the poor. For many of our poor, they identify the law with naked power and they see justice as just a dream, something they can never attain in their lifetime.”

At this time when villagers are about to choose their leaders in the upcoming barangay and SK polls, these words ring true.

Money really matters, whether in an election or in litigation.

In Philippine elections, the thickness of a candidate’s resume matters not to the majority of voters, who prefer the crisp feeling of cold cash in their hands.

The same ability to spend inordinate amounts of money is also a powerful tool in the courtrooms where the poor, whether as accused or complainant, do not have access to expensive law firms with attorneys paid by the hour.

This comes to mind as the Tribune publisher and a retired columnist absorbed a lopsided defeat in the “cyberlibel” case filed by Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO) over a 2016 column piece by Rosulo Manlangit that criticized members of the board of directors of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) over the controversial 1st and 2nd Amendments to the Electricity Sales Agreement (ESA).

SUWECO had claimed that the column article was maliciously written and made false claims, forcing it to seek P15 million in damages.

The Legazpi City trial court judge agreed and awarded the private corporation, who is now FICELCO’s largest power supplier with almost P40 million in monthly billings, with damages of P8 million plus P1.6 million in attorney’s fees.

As the case is set to be appealed, the Tribune management assures its readers that it will not be dissuaded from its duty of informing the public of what is happening on the island and how it affects them, so they would be able to act appropriately when the time comes.

We are comforted by the words of George Orwell of 1984 fame: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

As we forge on with our lifelong vocation, we look up to God for his guidance and to the people for inspiration, even as we keep in mind the reminder of TIME, Inc. editor-in-chief Henry Anatole Grunwald:

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault.”

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